CNN’s lawyers have told Morgan Freeman they are willing to go to court after the actor demanded the network retract its report alleging the actor was guilty of sexual misconduct.
Last week the news network published a story claiming the 80-year-old Hollywood legend was guilty of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour towards women in the workplace.
Freeman, who turns 81 on June 1, initially apologised but in a second statement insisted he "did not assault women" before his lawyers demanded the story was retracted.
CNN replied with a statement standing by the report and has now issued a legal letter to Freeman’s lawyer Robert Schwartz.
CNN’s senior vice president of legal David Vigilante said the original letter demanding a retraction was "designed for press consumption, it is rife with empty speculation, overheated rhetoric, and in some instances plainly false assertions".
It added: "The overheated protestations in your letter do not cast any shadow on the central gravamen of CNN’s story – that Morgan Freeman engaged in a pattern of behaviour that demeaned and sexualised women, whether or not they were in his employ."
Mr Schwartz’s letter targeted Chloe Melas, one of the CNN reporters who wrote the originally story and who spoke on the record about her experiences with the actor.
CNN defended their journalist in Thursday’s response, writing: "Rather than identify any specific aspects of the CNN report as false or wrong you engage in a lengthy and baseless ad hominem attack on one of the women who reported the story."
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The letter finished with a warning to Mr Schwartz, claiming his representation of Freeman was a conflict of interest because his law firm has been working for CNN in intellectual property cases.
A spokesman for Freeman said: "CNN’s letter is long on saber-rattling but short on substance. It fails to address the compelling evidence we provided that the story was tarnished by manipulation of the facts and conflict of interest. It was flawed from its inception and still is. Enough is enough."
CNN spoke to 16 people who described a pattern of behaviour, including a production assistant on the film Going In Style who alleged that Freeman had repeatedly attempted to lift her skirt.
He was also accused of making comments about women’s clothing or bodies, with some alleged incidents taking place in front of witnesses and even on camera, according to the report.
The news outlet said they had spoken to three entertainment reporters who claimed Freeman made inappropriate remarks during interviews, including Ms Melas, who was pregnant at the time and co-wrote the investigation.
She alleged he shook her hand and repeatedly looked her up and down and said "I wish I was there", and "You are ripe", less than a year ago.